Zhengzhou: I hit the ground running

The HUT library lies across a huge plaza from the south gate.

ZHENGZHOU, HENAN — So, I’ve been a little busy lately.

I arrived at the Zhengzhou airport on a Saturday morning (October 14) and began work two days later, right before midterm exams. Another teacher earlier had had to abruptly go home to deal with some paperwork problems, so I took over her classes — 10 in all — and a week later I picked up two more when another teacher had to leave for medical treatment.

Two weeks ago, we gave the sophomores their midterm exam (two sections for me) and the freshmen (four sections) got theirs this past week. So, when I have not been in class or preparing for class, I’ve been reading exams.

Plus, there was the half-day required for the medical check-up, which was identical to the previous one in May, except that was in Hunan and now I am in Henan, and that’s just the way it’s done, don’t ask questions, and the half-day today for creating a new bank account, even though I already have two Chinese bank accounts in Hunan, but this is Henan, and that’s the way it’s done, don’t ask questions.

Anyway, I’m street-legal now, with a new foreign experts certificate, a clean bill of health, and a new bank account (my third in China!) all ready for payday next week. The classes are going well, and the students are eager and most are reasonably adept at speaking English. I work with seven other foreign teachers, who hail from the USA, the UK, New Zealand and Canada, which is quite different from my previous post in Jishou, where I was one of two — or the only — English teacher.

As for Zhengzhou, I’ve had little time to go exploring so far, but it’s quite a bit different from Jishou. It’s much bigger in size, with two subway lines and the typical Chinese urban sprawl. The population is about 9 million, compared with Jishou’s 400,000 residents, but the campus is quite a ways from the city center, so it doesn’t feel especially crowded here.

The campus is fairly compact, much as Jishou University was, but like JiDa*, Henan University of Technology (HUT, or in local parlance, GongDa*), has both a new and an old campus. We are in the new campus. I’ve not been to the old campus on the other side of town as yet.

I’ve annotated this map of the campus to show major landmarks. The clock tower (#24) is north of the library, and my apartment is across the street from the campus.

Unlike JiDa, where I lived on campus, HUT provides its foreign teachers and students apartments adjacent to the campus, but still conveniently close. Plus, there are several restaurants, bakeries and small groceries right next to our apartment building, making shopping less of a chore than it was in Jishou. There is also a small supermarket on campus, below the clock tower.

[My fourth-floor walk-up in Jishou was on a tall hill — the locals justly call it a mountain — requiring a fairly strenuous 100-meter climb every time I went home. That’s about the same as walking up 16 flights of stairs, plus another four to reach my door. The nearest supermarket was about 500 meters (quarter mile) from my apartment. There are no such hills here. Thankfully — Though it was a great workout!]

The clock tower building contains the campus supermarket, post office, and banking facilities.

Classes are another difference. In Jishou, I was teaching Business English majors spoken English and Listening Comprehension. Here, my students are non-English majors preparing for the College English Exam (CET) Band 4 and Band 6, which are required of all Chinese bachelor’s candidates. Rather than just teach them spoken language and listening, I need to also teach grammar, writing and to a lesser extent, reading. I meet each section twice a week for 90 minutes each time. The freshman sections have 30 students a piece, while the sophomore sections have 20. Our program, called English in Education, is an enrichment program for students wishing to improve their English skills. Once a student passes the CET4 or CET6, they are not required to remain in the EIE courses. That explains the smaller sophomore sections.

Since the students are self-selected, we have students who are hard working and have considerable interest in learning English. In that regard, they are not much different from the English majors I left behind in Jishou. I do need to remember to slow down my speech, though, especially after living in the States for almost four months.

In short, everything is going well, and I’ve quickly adapted to my new surroundings. Once I finish grading the stack of exams on my coffee table, I may even have time to explore the city.

* Da is short for 大学 dàxuě or university. So, JiDa is short for Jishou University. As there are other unis beginning with Henan here, Zhengzhou folks call HUT 工大 gōngdà, as its full name in Chinese is 河南工业大学 hénán gōngyè dàxuě.

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