So, classes started last week …

JISHOU, HUNAN — This term is shaping up to be a lot more relaxed than the last three have been.

First off, I have only 10 class sessions a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Those are for Oral English with the sophomores and Listening Comprehension with the freshmen. Then, a new feature (since I am expected to have at least 16 class sessions a week) is six periods of “office hours.” Having never really had office hours in the past, this is a new concept to me.

My initial impression was office hours similar to those at American universities. The professor sits in his office doing what-not, waiting for anxious students to appear. But no! Those office hours are expected to be tutorials, à la Oxbridge. So, for three of those hours I was asked to make a schedule for the students I will meet (freshman class 1) and devise some kind of exercise for them. The other three “office hours” will be devoted to meeting with a gaggle of non-English majors preparing for the English speaking contest. These have yet to be scheduled.

Since I didn’t teach the freshmen last term, I’m using the first session as a get-acquainted time, to learn something about them and suss out their speaking and listening skills. After I see all of them, which will take another week and a half, I will give them some kind of task to prepare for the next session.

Luckily for them, I won’t be here for most of April, so they’ll have plenty of time to get ready. My daughter is getting married April 13 and my college and the university has graciously given me three weeks leave. I don’t need to make up the classes, but I am not sure whether I’ll paid for the month of April. (Note to self: better ask ASAP!)

As has been pretty typical of my life here, my now-ample free time has quickly been filled with tutoring sessions, a visit to a primary school in Fenghuang, and several proofreading and editing tasks.

The most time-consuming task is an editing job. Several of the teachers in our college are working to translate a book on cultural anthropology written by a Jishou professor, with the aim of getting it published in the States. They’re doing it on speculation right now; if the first few chapters read well, we’ll get the job and therefore money for our efforts. I have to admit the editing is slow going, not because their translation is bad, but because the presentation is less than entrancing.

The author of course is Chinese, and academic prose here is quite different from American academic prose. Whereas American prose is fairly direct, following a (hopefully) logical and linear line of argumentation, the Chinese style is more indirect and much more repetitve, so I find myself reading the same statements over and over again in a spiraling fashion, taking a long time to get the main point.

Were I the editor-in-chief of this particular project, I’d suggest a complete overhaul of the structure to bring it in line with American prose style, but that’s the journalist in me. (Can books on cultural anthropology ever be light, tight and bright? Doubtful.) It would require a lot more work, and more expertise than I have at my command. I took one anthro course at university. Took it pass/fail for a distribution requirement, and naturally got an A. Damn.

To be fair, I’ve only read one chapter — the introduction — so far. The second chapter, a longer one, awaits my perusal beginning tomorrow. Perhaps it will get the meat of the matter more quickly.

Oh, the topic regards the interplay and inter-relationships between ethnic groups, especially when they are involved in joint commercial or economic activities. The introduction makes some interesting observations, so reading the book is not really all that bad, given enough patience and a ready supply of coffee or tea. I’ll manage just fine.

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