Tengo er shi yi sui le años

Remember that entry a while ago about Bekah ayi, and Bekah lao shi? Here’s a new development: Sarah (the preschool teacher who I am helping) is visiting her family in Sichuan for the next two weeks. As in, Sarah is very far away for the next two weeks. So what happens now? Here is what happens: I have a preschool to call “mine” for these two weeks. I am the teacher. There are people who work “under” me to help the 3 ½ hour preschool time each morning run smoothly. I’m the one calling the shots. What?! … Really?! Yes. Sarah informed me of this on Sunday night. Funny enough, last Tuesday (one of my normal teaching days), Sarah was very busy. So busy that I didn’t really see her at all during preschool time. So, instead of teaching my lesson and then letting her take over, as has been normal for these past few weeks, I taught my lesson, and then kept with the flow of the preschool and showed the kids what we’d be doing next, and tried to keep every one happy, and decided what activity they’d be doing for their fine motor skills development, and told them when it was time to clean up and line up and gave them their candy and said bye bye and watched them all file out for lunch. 3 ½ hours of running the preschool, without any warning. And I did it. And it went well I think. And then Sarah came in and said she was very confident that I would continue to do well these next two weeks. Olivia called me lao shi the other day. I suppose that’s what I’ve become. And I think I’m becoming more and more okay with this.

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We celebrated the Fourth of July in China. In the morning, Lauren and I planned a lesson for the kids about it, and they learned about flags and red white and blue and parades. We helped them make parade hats out of newspaper and they decorated their own flags with red and blue paper strips and gold star stickers. We then all went outside (in the ridiculous humidity that existed yesterday) and the kids put on their hats and held their flags and we handed out noisemakers and gold streamers and then everyone paraded around the back yard and into one of the offices to show off their very tangible excitement. Much laughter and good times ensued. I’m not entirely sure if the kids really knew what was going on, but they definitely had a lot of fun. There are already pictures up on New Day’s site, click on “Scrapbook” on the left hand side bar. (I did not have my camera with me at the time, as I was the one trying to make sure it all happened the way I planned. So New Day’s site is the only place you’ll see pictures of this.)

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We also celebrated the Fourth of July in the evening, with a group from LA who is here for two weeks. They planned a cookout, and we all celebrated and invited all the Chinese staff and students who were around. We had an amazing fun time celebrating in a true American way in China. There were grilled hamburgers and hot dogs (yeah, I ate a tomato sandwich), and potato chips and corn on the cob, and peach cobbler and rice krispy treats and watermelon. We played lots of games (and made all the Chinese join it), like musical chairs and water balloon volleyball. We also had a dance party, including such songs as the YMCA, Macarena, Electric Slide, Cha Cha Slide, Chicken Dance, and Hokey Pokey. I don’t have pictures of this, but there were plenty of camera shutters being snapped, so I’ll have my hands on some pictures eventually. Just try to visualize about 50 people (1/4 Americans, ¾ Chinese) doing these dances together. It was absolutely ridiculous. And absolutely so much fun. The night, naturally, was ended with sparklers and fireworks. Chinese fireworks on the Fourth of July!

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I have started taking Chinese lessons, three times a week for an hour; my roommates and I are taking them together. I still can’t understand hardly anything people say to me, but I am starting to be able to form simple sentences about my age and birthday and anything including numbers or dates or seasons or today and tomorrow and yesterday. And when I do hear Chinese, it sounds more normal to me now; my ears recognize that it is a language with separate words and phrases and sentences. This is a big advancement for me, as previously anything in Chinese just sounded like jumbled mishmash and there was nothing coherent to it. The structure of the language is starting to make sense to me now! I’m hoping to keep up with learning the language even after I leave. Maybe I’ll finally start using that Rosetta Stone CD I have.

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Sometimes when someone says something to me in Chinese, my brain realizes that I have to answer in a different language, but the obvious problem comes to drift. I am, however, competent with buying groceries in the village and I can ask for my favorite type of chicken and bread at the barbecue restaurant in the village. But if anyone tries to respond to my simple Chinese language requests with a long string of Chinese words, I can do one of two things: grin and nod, or respond with “Ting bu dong, dui bu qi.” (“I don’t understand, sorry.”). However, the first things my mind has been conjuring up every time I want to speak to people are sentences in Spanish! It’s actually quite surprising how much Spanish I remember from four years worth of studying it. I think if I were in a Spanish speaking country right now I could definitely get around easily. Too bad I’m in China; I suppose Spanish would be more counter-productive than English. It is, however, so tempting to say something like “I am tengo er shi yi sui le años, he you?” (“I am 21 years old, and you?” … in a horrible and repetitive mix of Spanish, Chinese, and English.)

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Young and With No Clue

***I’d like to make a shout out to my sister Emili who is graduating from High School in a few short hours. I am so proud of her, and wish I could be there to watch her accept her diploma. Love you Em!***

Laoshi. Pronounced: laow-shur. Meaning: teacher.

Well, the kids still call me Ayi. But I don’t think that the words “nannie,” or “helper,” or “aunt” suit my line of volunteering-ism anymore. I have slightly (or maybe entirely) become a laoshi. Bekah the teacher.

No, really. I am a teacher.

I teach the preschoolers every Tuesday and Thursday. For the entirety of preschool. You may well call it the Bekah show. I have found myself in the line of writing lesson plans, cutting paper for crafts, planning activities, and thinking along the lines of preschoolers who speak Chinese but should be learning English.

It’s really alot of stretching for me. I am learning as I do this. Remember, my major is Music Management. There is no place in that major for teaching anything, no less teaching younger kids a second language. The Internet has been a big help. So has a book in the preschool teacher’s office that is filled with ideas for lesson plans pertaining to specific topics.

Last Tuesday was apples. Last Thursday was ants. (Last week was capital “A.”) Yesterday was (kind of) airplanes. (For lower case “a.”) The paper airplanes I helped them make were a big hit. Tomorrow is purple. Let me tell you that I drew lots of purple circles for a craft about grapes tomorrow. 263 tiny circles, to be exact. And I cut out 63 of those circles. It was SO MUCH FUN! Haha. So, I am a preschool teacher who is learning solely by experience. It’s very challenging, because seriously, I have no idea what I am doing. But I am definitely having so much fun with it. And then again at the same time, I can’t see myself EVER doing it again after this summer.

So, Bekah the preschool teacher. That’s not all. I am also a private tutor for Savannah now. For an hour and a half a day, I am teaching this beautiful 6-year-old girl English. She knows so much English. She understands much more than she ever lets on. So, I am attempting to teach her how to read. In doing so, I am trying to think back to when I was in Kindergarten and learning how to read. How did I learn? I have no idea. I am making things up. But, there is progress being made! Savannah recognizes alot of her letters now. The only problems at this moment are as follows: Her attention span is not quite as good as it was when we first started. I think she’s gotten too comfortable with me already. Also, we do not have enough books on the correct level for Savannah. Most of the books here are too easy for her. But everything has been working out well so far, and I have no doubt that things will continue to work out as needed.

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We took 6 of the kids to pick watermelons last Friday morning. It was a sticky but incredibly wonderful morning. You should check out some of the pictures of that morning and other adventures on New Day’s website!

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I have eaten two home-cooked Chinese meals in the past week. One at Amy’s house last week. I teach Amy English every afternoon, and she invited me and my roommate Jovy over to eat dinner with her family. It was a wonderful time and very good food.

Jovy and I had Amy and her daughter over last night for some American food. Actually, it was Italian, but I wasn’t about to cook hot dogs or hamburgers or something. Because that is gross. But, we had fruit salad with mango, grapes, cherries, apples, and bananas, and then noodles cooked in olive oil and garlic and peppers and onion and tomatoes, served with pesto tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, and for dessert we made a no bake chocolate pudding pie. I’d consider that all fairly American. They enjoyed it, I think. They told us they did.

My other home-cooked Chinese meal happened on Monday night. One of the English students here, Jill, told me that she wanted to cook for my roommates and me. So, we went to the village and bought all the ingredients (literally, all of them, as we have next to no food in the apartment), and came back to the apartment. I got to watch her cook Chinese style and I tried to remember everything she did. She made four dishes, and every one was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, seriously. The Chinese have a way with spices. Too bad all the spices were labeled in Chinese characters. I don’t know how I’m going to figure out what to buy when I want to cook that flavorfully.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to cook a Chinese meal when I get back to the states. We’ll see.

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Three weeks in China. I feel like I’ve been here forever, and forever is somehow not enough. Sometimes, I already feel sad that I’m leaving at the end of July. Maybe I should stop thinking about that.

I feel at home here. It’s such an odd concept for me to wrap my mind around. I am generally one who does not fare well with change. I like the familiar. I like my environment. I can get pretty shaken up when I am taken out of it. I don’t get strung out over things, I’d say I’m even a bit too laid back for my own good at times, but big changes generally take an intangible toll on my emotions.

So why is it, though I am literally half a world away, 12 hours ahead of normal life as I know it, buying food in an open market place with money that makes little sense to me in a language I barely understand, sleeping in a bunk bed on the 6th floor of an apartment in a village of a country with a culture that is massively different than mine, why is it that I am so completely comfortable here?

One word: Purpose.

I was given a heart for this country. I only feel complete when I am doing work for the orphans here. That is one of the pieces of my puzzle (oh, cliches).

Tangibly fulfilling a sense of purpose is one of the most rewarding acts I have ever experienced.