Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mr. Armstrong, Max, and the Kai Fa Qu

Mr. Armstrong
Most of the students call me Mr. Armstrong. Every now and again, they call me Armstrong, forgetting the Mister, but as opposed to my days at Neumann, no one has called me Armstead yet. I have to admit it took some getting used, being called "Mister" on a consistent basis. But I am 30 now and teaching kids who were born in 1996 so I suppose it makes sense.

Teaching at the middle school has been a lot of fun. One of my concerns was that the kids' behavior would be terrible, but it's actually turned out to be opposite. Most of them are pretty good and I think they look forward to my class, not because it's English, but because I usually try to make it fun by throwing in some games. If they speak too much Chinese, I make them stand in front of the class and sing "Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes." I didn't know this song before last month, but apparently it's pretty big in England and the kids get a kick out of it so I use it.

As for my Chinese, it is coming along. Making friends who don't speak English has proved to be as easy as I thought it would be. As opposed to Shanghai, you get a fair amout of stares from the locals on a daily basis. Most of the time, if I say anything, they're either too stunned to reply or they say "hello" and voila I've made a new friend. One of these new friends is a kid named Max.

During my second week here, I took the bus downtown to check out the city. On my way back to the Kai Fa Qu (the district where I live - more on that later), a young kid switched seats, sat next to me, and started talking. His English was pretty solid for his age and much better than my students at the middle school. He was also very curious about life in America and asked me questions like "Is it more interesting to live in America or China?" and "Which country has better food?"

I instantly wanted to help him as I realize it's probably a rare opportunity for kids around here to get the chance to talk with a native English speaker. So, I agreed to meet up with him and his mother the following Sunday night for dinner. They are from Inner Mongolia, where she studied English. As Max was growing up, she spoke English with him and he took a liking to it. Hence, his level is pretty good for a kid his age.

For the past six or seven Sundays now, I've met up with them and their friends. Max's friends are all girls and they get fired up when I tell Max I can't believe he has five girlfriends. Their English is also pretty good and every week, we go to a different one's home. In the pictures, you'll see some shots of us making dumplings for dinner one week.

Kai Fa Qu
Now, getting back to the Kai Fa Qu, which is where I live. Yantai's population is about 2 million (roughly 15% the size of Shanghai) and is divided up into five major districts, one of which is the Kai Fa Qu. Translated directly, it means "Development Zone" and I get the impression that (like areas of Shanghai) there wasn't much here 20 years ago. But now, within a five-minute walk, there are restaurants, malls and supermarkets. Like many parts of China, it's an area in transition and I'm glad to be a part of it.