reading a book at a cafe table under the arches of the Place des Vosges, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the Marais, Paris
Students in my class concentrate on their study book activity, identifying and sharing their personal skills.
We’re now in the sixth week of the new semester, and what a ride it’s been.
I’m performing a juggling act between my regular job of teaching 16 class periods a week, and being an IELTS examiner three weekends a month. I work pretty much all the time; in February I had a total of two days off. I barely had time for a healing massage, a trip to the grocery story, and a couple of trips to the gym.
Another challenge is teaching two new programs: reading class for the Singapore study abroad program, and English for Academic Purposes for the Victoria University program in Australia. The Singapore class is reading Madame Doubtfire; this provides some opportunities for levity, as when we role-played a talk show and I was Madame Doubtfire, the cross-dressing housekeeper (no, I didn’t dress the part). I had to respond to a question about which toilet I would use, men’s or women’s, and I said “Well, dear, I’m not exactly sure.” I’m slowly trying to build my students’ confidence to give dramatic readings, a challenge in a foreign language. Reading shouldn’t be just another boring class.
The EAP class is full of creative students, even if a few of them seem only to find creative ways to sleep in class. I’m teaching study skills, which consists mostly of student-directed group activities, such as exploring your personal skills and study habits. The class’s extracurricular project is a dramatic presentation of Murder on the Orient Express. They haven’t decided yet whether it will be a musical. It’s also becoming increasingly obvious to them that adapting one medium to another is full of unique challenges – you can’t just open a book and make it a drama.
I became a minor celebrity (in my own mind) when a couple of students came into my class the other day to film a video segment of me talking about the EAP program. As always, I improvised beautifully, and looked both casual and professional at the same time. My class then joked about asking for my autograph. A rather paranoid teacher in the next classroom, however, had a minor panic attack when he saw the cameras approaching, and imagining that he was next, swiftly moved his class to the 5th floor and locked the doors.
In addition to learning how to teach two new subjects (reading and study skills), I’m teaching my usual Going Abroad classes, for university teachers preparing to be Visiting Scholars in English-speaking countries. I round out my schedule with a Four Skills class (speaking module) composed of students from mixed backgrounds and abilities. We have fun together, and a group of them took me to lunch the other day.
I still find time, barely, for my guitar study and for photography. Speaking of fashion, something extraordinary is happening on campus: just in the past year or so, Chinese students with money to spend on fashion have created their own unique look, loosely based on Western fashion, but with color combinations and personal flair that is unique to China. It makes American college campuses look like an ocean of dull conformity; in China, even the jeans-and-T-shirt combo is impeccably cleaned and pressed, always new, never old and ratty, and combined with athletic shoes in day-glo colors or bold patterns. I’m planning to do a local equivalent of what NY fashion photographer Bill Cunningham does in the documentary Bill Cunningham’s New York – follow the local fashion icons with my camera and make a photo essay/documentary on the phenomenon.
Finally, I’ve taken on a minor supervisory role in the Going Abroad program, coordinating the foreign teachers who teach speaking classes. All in all, it’s a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes, in the evening when it’s all over and I’ve heard enough different versions to English to make me catatonic, I ask “What’s next?” The next day, inevitably, will bring another surprise.
Ganzi, Dontok Gompa, Monastic Student [July 2007]
Classes have finished, except for two oral English exams that I’ll give this week. As I complete my fourth year in China, I’m feeling the effects of the long and sometimes difficult process of adapting myself to a new country, and to my life as a teacher. I’m also looking forward to some heavy-duty travel.
I’ve been planning a trip to Tibet, Nepal, and India for four years; even longer, if you count the years I’ve spent anticipating my first encounter with the Himalaya, living vicariously through books such as Peter Matthiessens’s The Snow Leopard or Jeff Greenwald’s The Size of the World, not to mention Alexandra David-Neel’s My Journey to Lhasa. Well, it looks like I’m going to get there at long last.
Following the civil unrest in Tibet in the Olympic Year of 2008, all foreigners must now engage a travel agency, and travel through the region with a paid driver and tour guide. There’s no such thing as independent travel in the Tibet Autonomous Region for foreigners; this may change, but for now I must fulfill my dream via a high-price organized tour. I’ll join two other people once I get to Lhasa, and our tour is organized by Snow Lion Tours, a Tibetan-owned and staffed company. You can get an approximate idea of our 8-day itinerary here.
Here’s a general outline of my summer travel plan: Fly from Chengdu to Lhasa Saturday morning, July 10; spend about 3 days in Lhasa, then travel by 4-wheel drive to Gyantze, Shigatse, Everest Base Camp, and finally to the China-Nepal border at Zhangmu. From there I’ll take a bus to Kathmandu, and stay there as long as I feel like it. I’ll make a side trip to Swayambhunath temple, and possibly Pokhara. Then I’ll go by bus to Varanasi, India. Depending on the heat and the cost of travel, I’ll venture quickly or slowly onward to Agra and Delhi, finally ending up in Dharamsala, where I’ll visit my friend Phurbu who’s studying English there. I would dearly love to fit in a trekking trip to Ladakh, but any of the above plans might have to be modified or scrapped due to minor inconveniences such as running out of money or time (whichever comes first).
So there you have it: the dream of a lifetime (Asian version; I have other dreams for other parts of the world). I’ll be posting “from the road” as often as I’m motivated. Ciao.